Today, the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition announced the medals that judges awarded the wines that were submitted this year. The SFCWC is the “big daddy” of wine competitions, and today’s announcement was highly anticipated by the wineries competing for awards.

I am concentrating on the wineries and tasting rooms along Highway 101 in Mendocino county’s inland corridor this year, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. Some folks call this the Upper Russian River wine area, and is quieter than Mendocino County’s more heavily promoted wine area, the Anderson Valley. With a greater variety of micro-climates, Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries produce medal winning wines across a greater number of wine varietals.

This is the list of awards earned by Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries, where the wine label indicated the wine was made from the county’s grapes. There were many wines from inland corridor wineries that I did not list here; although they were excellent award winning wines, they were made with grapes from a neighboring county, or were self-identified as North Coast or California wine.

BEST OF CLASS – White Dessert RS>4.0
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Riesling $18.00

DOUBLE GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
DOUBLE GOLD – Grenache
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Jon Vinecent $15.00

GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $19.00
GOLD – Chardonnay – $30.00 to $34.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32.00
GOLD – Pinot Blanc
Girasole Vineyards 2011 Mendocino $13.00
GOLD – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2010 Potter Valley Weibel Family $16.95
GOLD – Merlot- $15.00 to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
GOLD – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $48.00
GOLD – Petit Verdot
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $22.00
GOLD – Red Dessert – RS>4.0
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Port Dessert Wine $25.00

SILVER – Dry Sparkling
McFadden Vineyard NV Potter Valley McFadden Farm Sparkling Brut Cuvee $25.00
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – up to $13.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Feliz Estate $12.99
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County Mendo $15.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
SILVER – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $14.50
SILVER – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Bliss Estate $16.00
SILVER – Gewurztraminer
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
McFadden Vineyard 2009 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
SILVER – Viognier – Up to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
SILVER – Viognier – $20.00 & Over
Campovida 2011 Mendocino County Campovida Estate $36.00
SILVER – White Blends Over $15.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Farmhouse White $15.00
SILVER – Dry Rose – RS<1%
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vnyds Dry Rose of Zinfandel $16.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $19.99
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $20.00 to $24.99
Barra of Mendocino 2010 Mendocino $20.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $40.00 to $49.99
Jeriko Estate 2011 Mendocino Estate $48.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino $18.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Mendocino Weibel Family $16.95
SILVER – Zinfandel – $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Maes Block $24.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Mendocino Ettas Block $20.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – $25.00 to $29.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendocino Cononiah Vineyards $26.00
SILVER – Syrah/Shiraz- $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Anna Mac $20.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – Up to $19.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2010 Mendocino County $18.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – $20.00 & Over
Parducci Wine Cellars 2008 Mendocino County $28.99
SILVER – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.00 to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Redwood Valley Weibel Family $18.95
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $20.00 to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Four Blocks $26.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendo, Napa, Sonoma $40.00
SILVER – Cabernet Franc
Albertina Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino Zamarzly Family Vineyards $24.00
SILVER – Bordeaux Blends – up to $19.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Meritage $18.00
SILVER – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards NV Mendocino Schoolhouse Red $12.00

BRONZE – Semi Dry Sparkling
Terra Savia 2011 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Brut Rouge $23.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino County Weibel Family Brut $16.95
BRONZE – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Cecil Keys $16.00
Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley $17.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars 2010 Mendocino Immigrant $18.00
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $20.00 to $24.99
Rivino Winery 2010 Mendocino Schrader Ranch Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Riesling – RS<1.49
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County White $13.99
McFadden Vineyard 2010 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $18.00
BRONZE – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio – $15.00 & Over
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Pinot Gris $16.00
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $15.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $15.99
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – $25.00 to $29.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2009 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vineyards $26.00
BRONZE – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Old Vine $19.99
BRONZE – Primitivo
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Italian Blends – Up to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Hopland Estate Quadriga $24.00
BRONZE – Syrah/Shiraz – up to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Sandra Syrah $18.00
BRONZE – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $13.50
BRONZE – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $29.99
Yokayo 2010 Mendocino County $25.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $20.00 to $29.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars NV Mendocino Heirloom IV $24.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $30.00 to $39.99
Milano Family Winery 2007 Mendocino Bells Echo Vineyard Echo $37.00
BRONZE – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Frey 2011 Redwood Valley Frey Field Blend $14.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino Road I Red Red Table Wine $9.95
BRONZE – All Red Blends – $25.00 – $34.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Assemblage $28.00

Two things I noted: the winery I manage the tasting room for took the highest honors and, while many will rightly feel like winners, it seems to me that Potter Valley was the big winner with a nice haul of Best Of Class, Double Gold, and Gold Medals.

Coro is both Italian and Spanish for Chorus.

Coro Mendocino is a wine program unique in the entire United States, where geographically related wineries make wine following a protocol as is done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, virtually everywhere throughout Europe, but nowhere else here. Each Coro Mendocino winery produces a wine featuring Zinfandel, the county’s heritage grape, and each wine contains between 40 and 70% Zinfandel, with the blending grapes being traditional Mendocino County blending grapes – typically Rhone or Italian varietals. The wines get blind tasted several times in panel tastings by the program winemakers, with the intent to make the best possible wines, and each wine must survive a pass/fail independent blind tasting to become Coro. There is more that goes into the program, but take my word for it, the Coro wines are as special as the program is unique, and the 2009 vintage Coro wines are spectacular, every single one. Ten wineries made a 2009 Coro Mendocino, no two are the same and the variations in style are amazing, ranging from lighter to big and dense.

Last night, Saturday June 23, 2012, the tiny town of Little River on the Mendocino Coast played host to the 2009 vintage Coro Release Party. The sold out dinner at the Little River Inn was a huge success as an event; the wines, food, and people gathered made for an incredibly memorable evening. The 2009 vintage was poured by ten wineries: Barra, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab, Parducci, and Philo Ridge.

In perhaps the most absurd twist of fate, the best way to tell you about last night’s release party dinner for the 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino wines, and the entire Coro Mendocino program itself, is to tell you about an 11th wine that wasn’t poured.

I mentioned that a wine needs a “thumbs up” from a blind tasting panel to be called Coro. I didn’t point out that a “thumbs down” vote would mean not only do you not have a Coro, but because there isn’t the 75% minimum quantity required by labeling law you also don’t have a bottle you could call Zinfandel. As an example, if Guinness McFadden came up short in his Coro making efforts, he might be forced to call the resulting wine, “Guinness’s Random Red,” which is a much tougher sell, even at a lower price, than the quality assured Coro he might have hoped to make.

This year, Owen Smith of Weibel made a wine that was Coro in all respects. The wine adhered to the strict protocol of Consortium Mendocino – the collective name of the Coro producers, and had secured the all-important vote from the independent panel that allowed his wine to be called Coro.

In what Monte Hill, member of the Consortium board, described as a comedy of errors (tragedy of errors might be more accurate), two unfortunate events followed: special bottles used only for Coro were accidentally not ordered by another program winery for Weibel’s wine, and then while waiting for fulfillment of an emergency special bottle order, the wine changed through oxidation.

Weibel’s winemaker Smith made adjustments to the wine and saved it but, when tasted alongside the other 2009 Coro wines, he determined that the wine was no longer Coro. There is a high expectation of quality, and he felt his wine no longer met that high standard. Although the wine could very rightly have been called Coro, and Smith could have been insisted that it be labeled so, honor was paramount. Weibel and Smith both took a hit, but gained nothing but respect for their defense of the Coro program.

I’ve tasted Weibel’s 2009 almost-Coro wine, and while not Coro, I think it drinks nicely. I have suggested the wine be called Integrity and sell for around $15 alongside the other 2009 Coro wines.

Owen Smith and Weibel elevated every 2009 vintage Coro wine released last night, and I was thrilled to be able to sit between Owen and Guinness at the release dinner party, two of Consortium Mendocino’s best Coro winemakers – even if one may not see his name grace a Coro bottle.

Okay, now on to the fantastic event and the ten 2009 Coro wines that were there:

The five course sixth annual Coro Producers Release Party Dinner started with a passed appetizer tartar trio of wild king salmon gravlax with sweet onion and dill aioli, red beet with goat cheese and cilantro vinaigrette, and cherrywood cold smoked sturgeon with cucumber chives and crème fraiche, paired with sparkling, white and rosé selections from the Coro producers.

The saltiness of the goat cheese and earthiness of the beets paired nicely with many of the rosé wines poured, and the smoked sturgeon was reminiscent of many of Mendocino County’s 2008 vintage wines.

Non Coro wines poured at the reception that captured my attention included  the 2011 McNab Ridge Rosé of Syrah, 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé, Parducci’s Rosé of Grenache & Zinfandel, 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (I absolutely loved it), NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut (this poured out in no time), and 2011 McNab Ridge French Colombard.

Margaret Pedroni, Consortium board member and marketing powerhouse, met with Little River Inn Chef Marc Dym in advance to make sensible food and wine pairings. The Coro wines were split into three groupings, lighter, medium, and bigger.

Monte Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies, and in his welcoming comments described Coro Mendocino as a “showcase for Mendocino Country’s heritage grape, Zinfandel.” Hill also described the cooperative winemaking process, with blind tastings starting in January with comments from each winemaker, offering constructive criticism and continuing through three more tastings before the big pass/fail tasting the following May.

The Consortium Mendocino is led by an elected officer, the Coro Commander. Commander George Phelan of Mendocino Vineyards commented that in addition to Chorus, “Coro also means community,” then introduced Monte Hill, Margaret Pedroni, and Julie Golden  “secretary and czar” from the board.

The first course paired the lighter styled 2009 Coro wines of McFadden, Mendocino Vineyards, and Brutocao with consummé of Little River shitake mushrooms with fennel and pork dumplings.

Our table included Guinness McFadden, his girlfriend Judith Bailey, two of Judith’s sisters and their husbands, and me – plus Monte Hill and his wife Kay, and Owen Smith. With seven strong McFadden fans at our table (I manage the McFadden tasting room in Hopland), we probably should have had a second bottle of McFadden Coro. I thought it had a lovely cherry noted easy drinkability, and while it paired great with the consummé, I would love to have had some McFadden Coro remaining to try with the second course’s pork belly.

Guinness McFadden said that his farm produces cool climate Zinfandel, and the lighter style McFadden Coro tasted great with the consummé. McFadden also noted that while Phelan is the Coro Commander, Julie Golden does so much work for the Consortium that “Golden is really the Coro Admiral, as Admirals outrank Commanders.”

The second course paired the medium weight 2009 Coro wines from McNab Ridge, Philo Ridge, Golden, and Barra with Coleman natural pork belly with wilted escarole and soft creamy polenta. I love pork belly and polenta, and really enjoyed this entire flight of wines.

The Entrée paired the bigger 2009 Coro wines from Claudia Springs, Fetzer, and Parducci with “cinghiale” wild boar ragout over pappardelle pasta with red chile garlic broccolini.

Bob Klindt of Claudia Springs spoke about the experience of making a Coro, the fellowship, the experience of offering somewhat harsh criticism of a wine in blind tasting only to find it was his own wine that he felt needed improvement.

I have heard the exact same thing from nearly all of the Coro producers at one time or another. The humbling experience of offering yourself notes for improvement in early blind tastings of your own Coro candidate wine.

Zindanelia Arcidiacono, better known as Z, and Coro winemaker for Fetzer, spoke of the experience of making the best wine she could, of putting so much of herself into the process, that now she could invite us to taste Z in the glass.

I think of Coro wines as brilliant food wines as the different grapes blended in with the base Zinfandel add more flavor notes allowing for pairing magic. Claudia Springs’ Coro stood out for me because it was so  big and “Zinny,” tasting the most like a big Zin and least like a blend. I also loved the smooth rich integrated oak meeting rich supple fruit in Fetzer’s Coro.

Dessert was an olallieberry galette with meyer lemon curd and was enjoyed with whatever Coro wine you wanted to pour with it.

Chef Marc Dym, of the Little River Inn, put together an incredibly successful meal around the various wines being featured.

I liked every 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino, each and every one richly deserving of the name, all perfect ambassadors for Mendocino County’s grape growing and wine making prowess.
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If you missed the 2009 vintage release dinner party, there is another opportunity to taste these excellent Coro Mendocino wines in a special showcase event:

Join the Consortium Mendocino at the 2009 Coro Wines Farm to Table Dinner for an evening of great food and wine, followed by dancing under the stars late into the night on the bank of the upper Russian River, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM AT McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley, CA 95469. Tickets are $125 per couple, $65 per single. The stars of the evening, the 2009 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, will be paired with grilled organic grass fed McFadden Farm beef and seasonal local farm fare. Each Coro Mendocino producer will bring a white, rose, or sparkling wine to complement the organic farm to table fare as well. Seating is limited, call to secure your spot today; McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, (707) 744-8463.

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I’m going to join Steve Jaxon tomorrow, Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:00pm on his KSRO 1350 AM show The Drive With Steve Jaxon. We’ll taste wines and talk about the annual McFadden Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on July 14 and the 2009 Coro Wine Farm To Table Dinner at McFadden Farm on August 18. We’ll taste McFadden wines and Coro wines from various producers and give away a pair of tickets to each event sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, so listen in on the radio or streaming live at http://www.KSRO.com

The town of Hopland in California’s Mendocino county is on Highway 101, 101 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The town is rural, with a small town charm comprised in part by a measure of genuineness that city people who work and live in cubicles flee to find.

Hopland, named long ago for the hops grown and kilned to make the area’s beers, is now a town better associated with wines.

16 winery tasting rooms are located in or near the center of Hopland, and wineries from 15 miles north in larger Ukiah, Mendocino county’s county seat, are trying to join Hopland’s tourism group and be considered Hopland wineries and take part in Hopland wine events.

Wine is made from grapes and grapes are grown by farmers. It is the growing of grapes, the farming in the area, that best gives Hopland the down home character visitors perceive. Unlike the amusement park environment of boutiques and high end restaurants found in the counties to the south, Hopland has a few basic eateries, filled with real working men and women.

Hopland’s grapes are grown in an area also known as the Sanel Valley. There is no monolithically thought of grape grown in Hopland’s Sanel Valley, because the area is as diverse as the roughly individualistic farmers who make their living off the land.

With vineyards on the rocky slopes of Duncan Peak to vineyards on the bank of the upper Russian River, head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, organically grown or raised biodynamically, planted to field blends or single varietal, the myriad grapes that are grown and the multitude of styles of wine produced from each of these different varietals makes for the greatest concentrated diverse wine tasting experience in the United States.

Of note is the greenness of the offerings in and around Hopland. In an industry where many supermarket brands of wine are made from plastic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and poisonous insecticides, mass produced in environmentally hazardous monocultures, where only 2 percent of wineries produce wines made from certified organically grown or certified biodynamically raised grapes, roughly 25% of all the wines poured in Hopland’s tasting rooms are genuinely green.

As Pam Strayer wrote on Organic Wine Uncorked, “Wines made with pesticides contribute more than 450,000+ pounds of Roundup to California each year. That just can’t be a good thing for an ecosystem.”

I’m biased, working for McFadden Vineyard, but here’s the way all wineries should strive to be: McFadden Farm up in nearby Potter Valley not only grows 750 tons of grapes organically every year but is a family farm, growing and air drying organic herbs, raising organic grass fed beef, selling 100% pure wild rice, and more green, healthy, farm treats. With both solar panels and a hydroelectric plant on property, McFadden Farm has to look behind them to find the wineries that brag about being carbon neutral.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox, I have to say that McFadden Farm produces fewer than 5,000 cases of wine and the efforts of a million case winery to be carbon neutral are substantially more involved than for what is more a Farm than a winery.

Parducci Wine Cellars, a Ukiah winery with a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Institute, has a commitment to the environment, a passion that is palpable, and is a shining example that doing things green, the right way, can actually end up saving money as the focus on reuse, reduce, and recycle ends up costing less than wasteful use and unnecessary spending.

Parducci is a huge winery. Their wines are uniformly delicious. They are carbon neutral. Relying on natural compost has allowed better tasting wines from healthier vineyards as unnatural fertilizers have been eliminated, and at a substantial cost savings. Similarly, reclaiming and naturally filtering all run off water from operations has made for a healthy ecologically diverse biome in the midst of their home vineyards, while reducing consumption of water – again, generating a cost savings.

Fetzer Vineyards is the 800 pound gorilla of Hopland area wineries, and was recently bought by Concha y Toro, a Chilean wine company demonstrating terrific green business sense with Fetzer. Fetzer produces millions of cases of wine, and this year I saw more organic grapes headed to Fetzer from local family vineyards than ever before. Of course, I believe that certified organic grapes make great wine, but the energy savings in sourcing as much of your needed grapes locally for a giant winery like Fetzer, as trucks travel shorter distances and use less fuel, is enormous.

Occasionally, I taste wines at events with other wine writers, and I abhor the elite wine snobbery I too often hear when the wines of Fetzer are discussed. Because Fetzer’s wines are produced in enormous quantities and are widely available throughout the country in stores and restaurants, there is a bias against Fetzer; the assertion being that good wine, wine worthy of tasting, can only come from small hand crafted wines with limited distribution costing an arm and a leg.

Let me call bullshit on that. I will agree that spending five times what you would spend on a bottle of Fetzer’s wines will allow you to select a spectacular bottle of wine – if you know what you are doing. You can easily spend an enormous amount on a not very good bottle of wine if you don’t know what you are doing, but you can’t buy a bad bottle of Fetzer wine and buying affordable wine rocks.

I was sent a six bottle assortment of Fetzer wines last year, and was impressed with the quality of the wines. The Riesling, which I have heard described as cloyingly sweet by people who admitted not having tasted one from Fetzer in over a decade, had the petrol notes I associate with quality collectable Rieslings costing much more and terrific balance between sweet notes and acid. All of the wines were good, well structured, all were drinkable, and all had fantastic QPR, or Quality/Price Ratio – they are great value wines.

The only knock I have with Fetzer, and something I imagine Concha y Toro will address in time, is that they don’t have a Hopland tasting room.

I would love to see a tasting room, right on highway 101 in downtown Hopland, where Fetzer could pour their wines. The wines of their all-organic sister winery Bonterra could be poured in the same location. Allowing people to taste wines regularly lets folks know how good the wines really are.

Another Hopland vineyard and winery without a Hopland tasting room is Topel Winery. Mark and Donnis Topel make some amazingly great wine, but chose to situate their tasting room in a location with greater traffic.

I shared a table with Mark at a wine event last year, and it worked out great, as I poured McFadden’s Sparkling Brut, amazing white wines, and delicious reds, and Mark poured his spectacular reds which are denser than McFadden’s style. The result was pretty nice as there was a compatible flow.

Mark and Donnis saw to it that I had the opportunity to taste their wines last year, dropping off a bottle here and there. I also tasted a half dozen Topel Winery wines during the event we worked together.

I once described the red wines of Topel Winery as being possibly the best from Hopland, but that is unfair to Topel’s wines. Mark and Donnis produce some of the best wines anywhere. Lush, dense, rich, multi noted, yet completely drinkable. Gorgeously balanced wines. I love the Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, and Estate Blend red wines from Topel Winery.

Every vineyard, every winery, every tasting room in Hopland has a story to tell. I hope to tell a few of those stories this year – better yet, capture the words of the farmers, winemakers, and tasting room managers and pass them on along with some notes on some of the great wines being poured in Hopland.

Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

__________

Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

For decades, Bill Traverso of Traverso’s Gourmet Foods and Liquors has been the man nearly everyone in Santa Rosa trusts when searching out a particular bottle of wine, Sonoma County’s wine merchant above all others. Bill is the chairman of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine’s Grand Harvest Awards, which makes the awards special enough for me to take notice, but Bill also points at something he feels sets this competition apart from others, “wines are judged by region…[each wine is] terroir ranked against its competitors. GHA recognizes wine entries that best exemplify the terroir of their respective viticultural areas, and acknowledges its influence on wine quality.”

This year the competition, first held in 1990, saw nearly two dozen judges set about tasting around one and a half thousand wines, from about 150 different American Viticultural Areas or other discrete wine appelations.

Of the numerous award winners, these are Mendocino County wineries that won awards, and wineries that won awards using Mendocino County grapes:

California

Gold

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Riesling, $9.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Sustainable White, $11

Silver

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $8.99

Five Rivers Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Pinot Noir, $12.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Chardonnay, $11

Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Chardonnay, $18

Bronze

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Sauvignon Blanc, 60% Lake County/40% Mendocino, $13.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Cabernet Sauvignon, $8.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Gewurztraminer, $9.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Merlot, $8.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Shiraz, $8.99Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 Petite Sirah, $11

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Cabernet Sauvignon, $10.99

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Sauvignon Blanc, $10.99

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $10.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 True Grit, $30

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Pinot Noir, $12

Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 Deep Red, $45

Anderson Valley (AVA)

Gold

Handley Cellars, 07 Pinot Noir, $30

V. Sattui Winery, 09 Riesling, $24

Silver

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Riesling, $18

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, $35

Bronze

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Gewurztraminer, Estate Bottled, $19

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Edelzwicker, $13

Navarro Vineyards, 270 Pinot Gris, $19

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Chardonnay, Premigre Reserve, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Pinot Noir, $29

Mendocino (AVA)

Gold

Handley Cellars, 08 Pinot Noir, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Syrah, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Genache, $27

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Zinfandel, $19

Silver

Barra of Mendocino, 07 Cabernet Sauvignon, $20

Girasole vineyards, Barra of Mendocino, 09 Hybrid red, $13

Girasole vineyards, Barra of Mendocino, 09 Pinot Blanc, $13

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Savignon Blanc, Cuvee 128, $18

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Chardonnay, $17

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Pinot Noir, $19

Bronze

Barra of Mendocino, 07 Pinot Noir, $20

CalNaturale, California Natural Products, 09 Chardonnay, Organically Grown, $12.99/liter

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Zinfandel, Old Vine, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Navarrouge, $14

Pacific Redwood, Pacific Redwood Winery, 09 Organic Merlot, $10.5

Mendocino County (County Appellation)

Silver

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Pinot Noir, $19.99

Bronze

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $13.99

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Merlot, $15.99

Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery, 06 Chardonnay, Weibel Family, $14.95

Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery, 09 Pinot Noir, Knightsdale, $15.95

Mendocino Ridge (AVA)

Gold

Stephen & Walker, Stephen & Walker, Trust Winery Ltd., 09 Chardonnay Late Harvest, $65

Yorkville Highlands (AVA)

Gold

Route 128 Winery, 09 Viognier, Opatz family Vineyards, $19

Bronze

Route 128 Winery, 07 Syrah, Opatz family Vineyards, $24

 

This is a terrific opportunity to search out a bottle of wine that isn’t just good, but it a good example of what a wine from the area it comes from should taste like.

Cheers and enjoy!

Torrontés is a grape grown widely in Argentina, with 33,000 acres planted between Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino. Together with my favorite named Torrontés grape, Torrontés Mendocino, Torrontés are crossings of Mission and Muscat of Alexandria, or Muscat of Alexandria and an as yet unidentified grape.

When you hear Torrontés from Argentina, think Zinfandel from California. Both are grapes that grow well in their respective places, both make delicious wines, both have large cult followings, but neither gets the respect they are due.

Just as California winemakers can point to pre-prohibition century old vine field blend Zinfandels and appropriately call Zinfandel “California’s wine,” while the public searches instead for California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay; so too can Argentine winemakers point to the Torrontés grapes brought by Spanish missionaries and colonists when describing Torrontés wines as Argentina’s wine, while consumers seek out Argentine Malbec and Bonarda instead.

More than any other wine, Torrontés is Argentina’s wine.

Torrontés makes for Argentina’s most unique white wines, typically possessing a yellowish green color, and spicy floral aromas.

Torrontés plantings are mostly found in La Rioja, Salta, Mendoza, Catamarca, Rio Negro and San Juan.

Recently, I tasted my first Torrontés, Concha y Toro’s Trivento Tribu 2009 Torrontés from Rivadavia, Mendoza in Argentina. Grown in the shadow of snow covered mountain peaks, a gift from a friend, the 2009 Trivento Tribu Torrontés Mendoza Argentina $9 is a lovely shade of yellow with a floral citrusy nose of rose and tangerine, and a fresh, medium light bodied, nice lightly acidic/sweet balanced burst of earthy tropical, orange, apricot and peach stone fruit. Really delicious. seriously drinkable. Amazing QPR (quality/price ratio), this wine costs little and tastes great.

Not the easiest varietal to find, but go to a real wine shop and ask the owner to point you toward the Argentine Torrontés, or have him order you some.

I paired the Torrontés with shell fish, steamed mussels and clams, and used the Torrontés in the pot in place of water for the steaming. So good, one of those makes-you-shudder moments. I would also pair this with any nice white fish, or chicken, or pasta, or how about nothing.

While the 2009 Trivento Tribu Torrontés Mendoza Argentina pairs brilliantly with food, it would also go over well just poured into glasses for a gathering of friends.

Cheers to the folks in Argentina who make Torrontés, a delicious new wine find for me, but a wine as much a part of their heritage as Zinfandel is for me and California’s wine industry.

__________

Writing about a Concha y Toro wine and mentioning the Torrontés Mendocino grape is almost wine blogger’s foreplay.

The big news here in Mendocino County this week is that Fetzer Vineyards, the county’s largest winery with annual sales of 2.2 million cases, has been sold by spirits powerhouse Brown-Forman of Louisville, KY to Concha y Toro, the Chilean wine company with the aim of being “a leading global branded wine company.”

The $238 million purchase, which includes Bonterra, the largest premium organic winery in the US, Five Rivers, Jekel and Sanctuary wine brands, goes a long way to increasing Concha y Toro’s visibility on the global wine scene.

My scheduled tour of Fetzer Vineyards with Ann Thrupp, the Manager of Sustainability and Organic Development for both Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards in Hopland, was cancelled this morning, awaiting a rescheduling by Ann, due to busyness around the winery owing to the transition.

Ann echoes the universal sentiment surrounding Concha y Toro’s acquisition, “it’s good news…we are all very optimistic. It’s an excellent company, committed to wine.”

It is hopeful that with the purchase of Fetzer by a winecentric company, Concha y Toro, the wish of all at Fetzer Vineyards for a Hopland tasting room will become a reality again sooner than later.

DISCLOSURE: As a promotion to boost awareness of Argentina’s wines, the folks at Wines of Argentina contacted me, and a bunch of other wine bloggers and asked them to write about their wines. This month it was to be an article on Torrantes, with different topics being explored each month – say Malbec, the influence of the Spanish or Italian, a look at San Juan vs Mendoza, whatever. Each month the Wines of Argentina folks choose their favorite piece, winners from 6 or more months will be judged once again, and one blogger will earn a trip to Argentina to taste wines. I acknowledge that there is an element of shill-iness about it all, but my piece was an honest review of a recently tasted wine that I didn’t write up and I tied it back to California, Mendocino County, and an individual local winery before I was finished – so if I’m to be judged a whore, I would like you to consider me a playful whore who would enjoy pairing the cuisine of Argentina’s Cuyo region with the wines of San Luis and San Juan.

Today’s biggest wine news in Mendocino County comes from way down south. Here’s a link to what will be the big news talked about by folks in the industry, directly from the people making the news:

VIÑA CONCHA Y TORO AGREES TO ACQUIRE FETZER VINEYARDS FROM BROWN-FORMAN, EXPANDING ITS OPERATIONS TO CALIFORNIA

01 March, 2011

 

Santiago, Chile, March 1, 2011 – Viña Concha y Toro S.A. (NYSE: VCO) and Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE: BFA, BFB) announced today the acquisition by Viña Concha y Toro of Fetzer Vineyards and related assets from Brown-Forman in California.  The purchase price for the transaction is US$ 238 million.  The transaction is expected to close in April 2011, subject to regulatory and other customary closing conditions.

The acquisition includes a portfolio of brands with attractive positioning in the American wine market including: Fetzer, Bonterra, Five Rivers, Jekel, Sanctuary and Little Black Dress.  For fiscal 2010, the acquired brands represented volumes of 3.1 million cases and net sales of US$156 million; Concha y Toro also acquires assets including mainly: 429 hectares of vineyards owned and leased in Mendocino County, California; cellars with capacities of 36 million liters (Hopland, California) and 6 million liters (Paso Robles, California) and a bottling facility. The key facilities are located in Hopland, California and employ approximately 240 people.

Fetzer is one of the top ten brands by volume in the U.S. market with sales of 2.2 million cases annually.  Fetzer is also a pioneer in the development of sustainable practices and recognized as an environmental leader, a commitment that has been a hallmark of the brand for the last 20 years.  Bonterra is the undisputed leader in the premium organic category and pioneered the development of vineyards in this category since 1987.  With sales of 300 thousand cases annually, Bonterra is more than three times the size of its nearest organic competitor.

Eduardo Guilisasti, Chief Executive Officer of Viña Concha y Toro said: “The Fetzer acquisition is the largest transaction of this type in the company’s history.  It represents a continuation of our business strategy, which has been carried out successfully over time and enabled us to enjoy steady growth.  We believe that this transaction opens additional growth opportunities globally, as well as in the American market, with its main brands Fetzer and Bonterra.  We further intend to incorporate the culture of excellence and commitment of the great team at Fetzer who have created exceptionally strong consumer brands”.

Paul Varga, Chief Executive Officer of Brown-Forman said, “Fetzer and Bonterra have been wonderful brands for Brown-Forman over the years, but as our company has grown globally and our portfolio strategy has evolved, we believe refocusing our resources on what we deem to be our best opportunities for strong growth will provide superior shareholder returns over the long term.  And we are particularly pleased that such a prestigious wine company as Viña Concha y Toro will continue the legacy of success these brands have enjoyed over the last several decades”.

__________

Last week, I scheduled a tour, picture taking opportunity, and tasting at Fetzer Vineyards for this coming Thursday, and look forward to writing more later this week.

Dear Readers,

I am changing internet service,  going from fast to faster. To do so, there wasn’t a simple transition plan, but a service stop and new service – and a gap of a week.

Posting an entire entry, without pictures, from my phone, just is not practical.

I’ll be back next week, and post a feature piece on Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards from here in Ukiah. I visited last week, tasted wines, took some pictures and you’ll be able to read more about that visit next week.

I’ll also be writing a Valentine’s Day piece about the yummiest of the bubblies, Brut Rose, and will taste and feature bubblies from Korbel (Sonoma County), Bollinger (Champagne France), and locally a Brut Rose from Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate in Hopland.

Look for a piece upcoming on Mendocino County winery powerhouse Fetzer Vineyards and their wines, some wines from Bordeaux France, and wines from places in between.

Until then, remember that rules like “red with meat” and “white with fish” are broken all the time, but wine with friends and family is the best pairing rule of all.

See you next week. Cheers!

John

This weekend, Saturday, October 23 and Sunday, October 24, from 11:00AM to 5:00PM each day, the wineries of Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, located on Highway 101 less than an hour north of Santa Rosa, join together for the 2010 Fall Hopland Passport Weekend.

Participating wineries include Brutocao Cellars, Fetzer Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Magnanimus Wines, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards.

I attended the Spring Hopland Passport Weekend, and wrote of my experiences, visiting each participating winery and tasting an even 100 wines – it helped that I could use both days.

Two day tickets are available online for $35, or for $45 at any of the participating wineries on the day of the event.

Saturday shuttles are available for only $15, picking up from and delivering to a host of Ukiah hotels. The shuttles run all day between the participating wineries.

Each winery puts their best foot forward; food treats are provided that pair well with wines served, live music, arts and crafts, artisanal honeys and olive oils are among the treats offered by the wineries. For two days, you get to travel from winery to winery, tasting wines, savoring tasty foods, surrounded by the beauty of Mendocino County’s vineyards and wineries. A wristband, tasting glass, and a map make for a weekend of discovery.

Tastings like this are one of the best ways to expand your wine tasting experiences, learn which wine varietals you prefer, and perhaps develop an appreciation for a wine region you aren’t fully familiar with.

Every person tasting in the spring version of the Passport Weekend was happy, smiling, enjoying themselves, and having a great time. I loved visiting all of the Hopland wineries earlier this year. I encourage you to come to Hopland this weekend, and hope you have as wonderful a time as I did.

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